Acts


The next day, after a night in prison for preaching Jesus as the Christ in hostile territory–the Temple.  Peter and John are put on trial by the rulers and elders and scribes of the Jewish religion. 

The prosecution: “By what power or by what name did you heal this man?”

The defense [filled with the Holy Spirit]: “by the name of Jesus…whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…[who] has become the cornerstone…And there is salvation in no one else”

That is some heavy stuff!  The defendants have become the prosecutors “You crucified the Author of life!”  What we need to glean from this trial is threefold: 1) the Spirit works in times of adversity 2) Jesus is the cornerstone upon whom all things stand or are crushed and 3) There is salvation in no one else.

1) The Spirit works in times of adversity. So p(r)ay attention!

Peter and John are on trial for preaching Jesus (the radical capitally-punished rabbi) as having equal status with Yahweh.  These guys are in deep trouble.  That is not a light thing to do.  It is a similar thing for a Christian to go to Mecca and saying, “Jesus is the only begotten son of God whom God has annointed and raised from the dead. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  That would not go over well…at all.  It is an extremely offensive idea.  But Jesus was regarded as a heretical, delinquent, cult leader in the minds of most Jewish leaders.  So how did Peter and John end up preaching this gospel while on trial?  Answer:  the filling of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit can and will empower believers to withstand adversity and bear witness to Jesus in the midst of it.  However, sometimes we are not filled with the Spirit.  What then?  We speak the gospel.  In Acts 10:44, Peter is preaching to a group of Gentiles and while he is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on them.  The point?  We need to be speaking and sharing the gospel at all times.  However, no one will be saved unless the Spirit falls.  We can’t control the Spirit, he is like the wind. Put your sails up!

2) Jesus is the cornerstone upon whom all stand…or are crushed

Think Jenga.  Jesus is like the bottom corner.  If you remove it, the whole thing is going to crash.   Likewise, without it nothing can be built. 

Your whole life must be built on this one stone: Your identity, your pursuits, your relationships. 1 Peter 2:5 calls all believers “living stones” being built up to be a holy priesthood.  We, as a body of believers are a wall.  Jesus is our cornerstone. When Jesus is truly the cornerstone of your life, your family, your church — Christ’s mission will be carried out.  The Body will function correctly, and when the Body functions correctly, it catches the wind of the Spirit and people get saved.  However, sometimes we have to take a look at our wall and make sure Jesus is our cornerstone.

3) The message of the Spirit: “There is salvation in no one else”

Basically, there are two ways to expound on the exclusivity of salvation.  One way is to talk about it in light of other religions.  No one worshipping Allah, Buddha, Mother Nature, or any other idol will be saved.  Even the Jews, who worship Yahweh, will not be saved apart from Jesus.

The other way to talk about this is in striving for salvation by our own good deeds.  Salvation is possible ONLY by what Jesus has done, it has NOTHING to do with what you have done.  Even repentance is a gift from God.  We can’t even repent unless God grants it (2 Timothy 2:25)!  “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  How is one saved? By God enabling us to put our faith in Jesus’ atoning death for our sins.  No credit is due to us whatsoever. 

Ask yourself this…

1.) How can you have the gospel on your lips in times of adversity?  Put your sails up to catch the wind of the Spirit.

2.) What is the cornerstone of your life? Family? Church?  What kind of fruit is being born?

3.) Do you need to refine your thinking of the exclusivity of Jesus?  Get ready to be intollerant.

Parents..

– Talk with your teen about the cornerstone of your family.  Demonstrate repentance if the cornerstone is not Jesus.

– Teach your teen how to respond to questions like, “How can you be so intollerant?”

In this passage, Peter continued preaching the gospel to a bunch of Jews in the Temple.  He does three things that we should pay attention to.  He appeals to the authority of the Old Testament, he appeals to need for repentance, and he and John persevere in the gospel amidst adversity.

Authority of the Old Testament

It is way to easy to ignore the Old Testament because of its seemingly boring stretches.  But this was the Bible for Jesus.  This was it.  This is what Peter and John had for Scripture.  The New Testament was still being written.  So, they had to know the Old Testament well.  They had to reconcile Jesus with the Prophets–and in doing so, it became clear that “what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18) in Jesus.

Again, in verse 21, Peter says that Jesus will come back to restore all things according to that which “God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” 

He is still not done, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him  in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every sould who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:22-24).  That is a lot of Old Testament talk.  When we can recognize that the Old Testament is ALL about Jesus, it will be a lot more exciting and we will understand a lot more about our Lord Jesus.

Repentance

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come…” (Acts 3:19-20).

When these Jews heard that Jesus is supposedly the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament, they put it together that Jesus would also be the Messiah that would come to judge and restore the earth.  They knew the consequences because they knew their Bible.  Peter then says, “Repent that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come”. 

“Times of refreshing…”

The Greek word translated as “refreshing” actually carries with it a more descriptive nuance of what Peter is talking about here.  It carries with it the notion of breathing space or relaxation.  This breathing space is such that when Jesus does return to throw-down WWE style, those who repent can have some breathing space and relax.  Those who repent can rejoice when Jesus returns rather than dread it.  Why?  Because genuine repentance results in our sins being blotted out!  I say genuine repentance, because there exists several avenues of counterfeit “repentance” which do nothing for blotting out sins. 

1.) Mere Confession – This is “oops, my bad” repentance.  Mere confession apart from a real turning away from sin, is not genuine repentance.  Imagine brother Billy, who just pulled sister Sally’s hair.  Billy gets caught and is forced to apologize.  You get mere confession, “Sorry Sally”.  This is also where we get a false “theology” of struggle.  So many Christians merely confess pithy, church-acceptable sins; when in reality, dark and dirty, yet proud, sinful natures lay beneath.  This is the guy who struggles with pornography but his confession is about procrastinating on his homework.

2.) Selfish Repentance – This is when someone says “Sorry, God” in hopes of receiving some sort of earthly blessing.  Maybe you have been doing poorly in math class, you infer that it is because of an unconfessed sin-issue.  You tell God you’re sorry in hopes that He will magically raise your GPA.  The blessing of repentance is sins blotted out and breathing space when Jesus returns.

3.) Religious Repentance – This is the really vocal church kid who always confesses the sins of others, but never his or her own.  They may know their Bible really well, be in the worship band, be really good contributors in small group, and be on a Log-shoot ride into Hell.  Why?  Because someone who always confesses the sins of others (and never their own), always offers prayer (but never asks for prayer), always offers advice (but never seeks it), is creating an entirely false and prideful front for other Christians to bow before.  The other side of this coin is  merely confession.  Be someone who others can confess to, also be someone who confesses sin to others–not to anyone and everyone thought.  Find someone who takes sin seriously and will hold you accountable to turn from it, and will praise Jesus that he has died for you.

Gospel Perseverance

Peter and John got arrested for this bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Are you willing to risk an awkward moment?  Losing friends? Reputation? How much do you really believe that the Gospel is good news?  There is no loving act for a lost soul apart from sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her. Persevere in sharing the gospel.

 

Peter and John, after having witnessed the church expand by 3000 people in a day, went to the Temple to pray.  Upon entering, they happened to catch the glance of a dude born paralyzed asking for alms.  The strong tendency for alms-giving in the Temple was to draw attention to oneself like a look-how-good-I-am-for-giving-to-the-poor attitude.  Jesus confronts this tendency in Matthew 6:1-2, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”

So, here they are.  Peter and John gave him an intense look and said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

The man’s biochemistry immediately was changed, his spinal cord regenerated and the man jumped up and began praising God all throughout the Temple.  Now, if this doesn’t draw attention I don’t know what does.  In fact, it even says, “all the people ran to them…astounded”.  So, heeding the words of Jesus, Peter quickly deferred the credit, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”

Peter was offended at the people even considering that he could have done this by his own power or religiousness.  He knew full-well of the rediculousness of that ideal.  Instead Peter sought the glory for his king Jesus. Everyone knew who Jesus was, as he had caused a scene more than once in the Temple.  Peter proceeded to preach the gospel of how Jesus is the Author of life whom they murdered.  But God raised from the dead, and so, since he is alive, his name holds a lot of power as you could imagine a resurrected Author of life would. 

This is different than the chant of the religious Ned Flanders of the world, “praise the Lord” to everything without any notion of actual worship happening.  We see it all the time.  Especially on award shows like the Grammy’s, “First off, I just want to thank God, and my family, and my fans”.  Sound familiar?  That is more often than not politically-correct, trying-to-please-the-fans, false humility.  Why?  Because it does not stop at God.  God’s hand is regarded as merely the extra credit to fill in the gaps of personal effort.  Real, Jesus-glorifying humility stops with Jesus.  “I want to thank God, only God, and it is all by the grace of God.”  Wouldn’t that be radical?  Wouldn’t that cause a stir in Hollywood?  Wouldn’t producers and fans be upset that they were not glorified?  Yes, yes, and yes.  We serve a high king who has a lot of glory due, and a king who gets very jealous when his glory is not given solely to himself.

Ponderings…

1.) Is Jesus’ name worth more than gold and silver to you? What are you willing to risk for Jesus’ fame?

2.) How do you do with recieving compliments from others?  Do people recognize that it is by the grace of God that you are who you are (1 Cor. 15:10)?

3.) How can you compliment others in a way that gives the credit to Jesus?

4.) Pray that God would give you a heart that loves His glory more than your own reputation.

     This portion of Acts is a kind of quick summary statement that Luke provides in telling his reader about what the earliest church was doing and looked like.  Being that this is the church that existed closest to the time of Jesus, and was the most unified in all of history, we need to pay close attention to what Luke says about it. 

     “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

In other words, they took the Bible seriously, each other seriously, and Jesus seriously.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching

Jesus appointed a handful of men to be his apostles.  Jesus gave these men authority in the church in word and in writing.  It was these men who wrote the New Testament; and so, to devote oneself to the apostles’  teaching was to devote oneself to the Bible. 

They devoted themselves to fellowship

What exactly is fellowship?  Most American Christians have a misconception of real, biblical fellowship.  Most of us will hang out exclusively with Christians and have a lot of fun and we call it fellowship.  Fun is certainly a piece of fellowship, but if it never goes beyond that, please do not call it fellowship.  Fellowship is the act of believers gathering together to worship Jesus, to study his word, to hold one another accountable, to confess sins, to impact their community, and to have sanctified fun.  Within fellowship should be two things: the breaking of bread and prayer.

They took Jesus seriously

In breaking bread, the believers were remembering the glorious covenant that Jesus made with his church by getting murdered on the cross (Lk. 22:19).  Breaking of bread in the early church was a meal, however; it was not just a wafer and an ounce of grape juice.  Gathering for a meal with other believers is a great way to engage in fellowship.  The Lord’s Supper is intended to be done within fellowship-not an entirely individual experience.  But it must be centered on Jesus’ covenant-making.  It’s all about Jesus.

Within fellowship, be devoted to prayer.  This is a Jesus-centered act.  Rely on Jesus to meet needs, to advance his gospel, and to build up the church.  Worship Jesus in prayer.  Intercede for others by asking Jesus to save them.  Be serious about Jesus by praying to him.

“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds toa ll, as any had need.”

The other mark of God’s earliest church was that there was an almost eery detachment from belongings.  This is truly a strange concept for 21st century American believers.  Hebrews 10:34 says, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”  What a strange concept!  Joyfully accepting when someone else comes and breaks all of our stuff.  I can see perhaps merely accepting it, but joyfully?! You have got to be kidding me.  Guess what, it is no joke.  This can only be the genuine response when we know how precious Jesus is.  It’s like when you get a new Xbox 360 and someone comes and plunders your Nintendo 64.  Who cares, right?  You have something way better now.  Jesus is infinitely more precious than anything on this earth that you could possibly own.  You can joyfully accept the plundering of your property.  You can joyfully sell your beloved belongings to serve your brother or sister in Christ. 

Questions…

1.) Which of the three marks (Bible, fellowship, Jesus) do you need to ask Jesus to work on in your own life?

2.) Which of the three marks do you need to ask Jesus to work on in your church?

3.) Who do you know in need that you could help by giving away something of yours?

Parents…

1.) Cultivate these marks in your family.  Ask your kids how to improve. 

2.) Dads- are you making sure to gather the family for devotions?  Set the example for the family.

Holy Spirit

On Pentecost, while anyone who’s anyone is in Jerusalem celebrating the day when Moses recieved the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai, Jesus sends his Spirit to empower an incredible sermon that would save 3,000 people. 

The Spirit comes in no inconspicuous way, and enabled miraculous linguistics among the believers to speak to all of the Jewish pilgrims in their own language the “mighty works of God” (2:11).  Peter, taking lead again, assures everyone that they are not drunk but rather, they are experiencing a fulfillment of prophecy made in Joel 2.  It is not until verse 22 that Peter proclaims the gospel.  It is here that we are going to camp.  Why?  Because in all things, the Spirit is the means for which the gospel is proclaimed.  The Spirit is never an end in himself, he exists to bear witness to the Son (1:8).

Peter kept it about Jesus.

Jesus was crucified by sinners as planned by God for our redemption (2:23)

– God raised Jesus up from the dead, because Jesus was too glorious to stay dead; as planned by God for our redemption (2:24)

– Because Jesus went to sit on his throne, we get the Holy Spirit; as planned by God for our redemption (2:33)

– Jesus is both Lord and Christ. No, Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it is a title meaning God’s anointed one. (2:36)

– Sinners crucified Jesus (2:26)

The response…

– Repent! 

-Be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins

– receive the Holy Spirit

A few words…

I believe that Peter’s messsage was relevant to those who were in the crowd at Pentecost.  I also believe that it is still relevant to those we encounter every day in our lives.  The bullet points provide a skeleton of the Gospel.  For the Jews, it was appropriate to fill in the meat from their Scriptures and how Jesus fulfilled them.  Still true for today, however, most run-of-the-mill lost soul these days won’t care because 1) They will have no clue as to what you are talking about when you quote the book of Joel and 2) the Gospel skeleton can be meated up with meat from today that people existing 2000 years after the fact and a hemisphere away will understand and be “cut to the heart” (2:37). 

It is our job to engage lost people with love enough that seeks to strive to make them understand the good news about Jesus and his redemption of those who put their faith in his finished work.  The apostle Paul gives an example in Acts 17:22-34 of engaging non-Jews with the gospel message using passages from their own secular poets! Why?  Because they have no clue as to who the prophet Joel is.  But they can get Jesus.  Let us not seek to avoid culture, but instead, let us engage it and redeem it and use it for advancing the gospel.  Let us fill up that gospel skeleton with meat from 2009.

We talk about showing the love of Christ… what is more loving that sharing the truth that there is salvation from God’s wrath in him.  It is much more loving to share that message than to merely hold a door for someone, or to say “God bless” when someone sneezees.  Get out there Cornerstone!

Think about it!

– Do you have any lost friends?  Why not?

– When you share your testimony, is the main character you or Jesus?

– What “meat” can you use for Jesus’ sake that your friends would understand?

– Role play with friends or family sharing the gospel to a non-believer.

In this passage we see how God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).  Jesus star trekked up to heaven, and the believers are still waiting for the promise of the Spirit, yet the Triune God works in them during this time.  We see what theologians call regeneration occurring here.  After four gospels of hearing about how lame the disciples were and how good they were at missing the point, there is finally a positive light shed on these guys in this passage.  And the author, Luke, made sure that his readers knew that it was the work of God and not themselves.  Regeneration is the visible shifting of affections and behaviors from sin onto Jesus.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit in a brand new believer. 

We read that they devoted themselves to prayer with one accord, and that Peter, after a major fall-out by denying Jesus, has turned and strengthened the brothers (Luke 22:32), “Peter stood up among the brothers” (Acts 1:15).  This is an act of God the Holy Spirit. 

From there, Peter debriefs the past week or so with the believers.  Totally stressed out, Peter comforts the believers in saying, “Brothers, the Scripture HAD to be fulfilled…” (1:16).  What God says is always fulfilled.  Always.  This is the unwavering purpose of God the Holy Spirit.  This is confirmed in John’s Gospel, “Jesus knew from the beginning…who it was who would betray him” (Jn. 6:64).  It is a huge comfort to know that all things, good or seemingly bad, are within God’s perfect plan for his ultimate glory.  When bad things happen in our world, we can say, “this is really hard, but I can rest in God’s plan that will work out for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28)”.  That is the plea that Peter was putting forth for his hurting and confused friends.

From there, the story goes on to tell of another radical trust in God’s plan by casting lots for a new twelfth apostle.  We talked about how casting lots is a lot like rolling dice and trusting that God will guide them.  By casting lots, the apostles left the decision up to God.  We can still trust in God’s plan this way when facing decisions without casting lots, by praying and trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Ponder this…

Are you trusting in God’s perfect plan?  Or are you holding on to some anger because you think your plan is better than God’s?

Can you think of a time, before you became a Christian, when the Spirit regenerated your heart to respond to the Gospel?

What is God calling you to trust in his plan for?

“Moral”-focussed or Spirit-led?

     Our tendency as inhabitants of the Christian sub-culture is to focus on petty morals-made-law in order to impress other believers instead of relying on the Spirit to save souls.  When I talk about morals,  I am not talking about sin-issues such as cheating on tests, watching unfruitful or nasty movies, or cussing for the sake of cussing—those are sin-issues not moral issues.  When I talk about morals, I am referring to those things that Christians “should” do, according to other moralistic Christians.  These laws consist of only listening to Christian music, never missing an opportunity to “bless” someone who sneezes, only allowing yourself to watch movies that are animated for fear of corruption from the “real” world, only wearing clothes with Christian catch-phrases on them, etc.  I’m guessing you know what I am talking about.  Remember the distinction between sin-issues and petty moral-issues.  Have the mind-set of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. 

Now, what does a Spirit-led life invovle?

“You will recieve power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The Spirit-led life is going to make disciples of Jesus Christ wherever you go! 

How?

Romans 1:16 says, “[The Gospel] is the power of God for salvation…”  1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “[the cross] is the power of God.”

The Holy Spirit + Gospel = an empowered follower of Jesus ready to take the world for Jesus

Questions for parents…

Are you modeling to your teenager a Spirit-led life?

-Is the emphasis in your house the cross or petty works?

Additional questions…

What petty morals do you need to repent of?

– Are you relying on Jesus’ act on the cross or on your “good works”.

– Is the Spirit nudging you to something radical that you have been too scared to acknowledge?

– How can you spend your time training and preparing for a life of mission?

– How can you live out the mission of the Spirit (Acts 1:8) right now?

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